Bears coach Matt Eberflus and his defensive staff spent much of the offseason, training camp and preseason instilling the H.I.T.S. principle that focuses on hustle and intensity and aggressiveness. But let the record show, the “T” in H.I.T.S. is for takeaways, not tackling.
So two weeks into the regular season, the Bears had a tackling issue in their 27-10 loss to the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Poor tackling helped pave the way for the Packers to gain 414 yards, including 203 yards on the ground. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones forced 13 missed tackles by himself. Depending on your definition of a missed tackle, the Bears had 20 or more against Packers.
Is that a red flag? Or just an early season hiccup for a defense playing at regular-season game speed for only the second time? Eberflus wasn’t going to accept that excuse. But he wasn’t going to freak out about it, either.
“You’re not tolerant [of that] at all,” Eberflus said. “It’s something we have to correct and we’re going to work tirelessly to get that done. But a lot of times it happens early in the year.”
Eberflus has been here before. In 2019 — his second season as the Colts’ defensive coordinator — poor tackling was the culprit when the Colts allowed 435 yards (7.4 per play) in a 30-24 overtime loss to the Chargers in the season opener.
“It was early in the season and you just gotta get guys to get up on the runner and get their pads on them at the proper level and then have a strong wrap and run your feet. A lot of times, missed tackles happen because you’re lunging and not getting up on the runners. So, we’re going to work on that [in] individual [Wednesday] and just get better at it.”
Eberflus seemed to get his point across after that 2019 opener. The Colts responded with a sharp performance against the Titans —allowing 243 total yards (4.3 per play) in a 19-17 victory.
So it figures that the Bears will be on-point defensively against the Texans on Sunday. The Texans are averaging 266.5 yards through two games (4.2 per play) — 29th in the NFL —and 78.5 rushing yards, which ranks 27th.
“We’ll be better at it,” linebacker Nick Morrow said. “We were in the gaps [against the Packers]. We were there. We fitted up. We just didn’t make the play. That’s execution. I don’t think it’s a mental focus thing. We just didn’t execute well enough.”
Generally, teams that tackle well respond quickly. But in Week 3 of the first season under Eberflus, the Bears have not yet established that they tackle well.
“You’ve got to get back to your fundamentals,” Morrow said. “Sometimes you just want to go in there and hit a guy and you may get too high, a guy bounces off of it, or spins off of it. They’re paid to break tackles, too. You’ve got to be good in your technique and your fundamentals and constantly work it.”
Eberflus echoed that sentiment. “We are tackling too high right now. We’ve got to tackle lower,” he said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of executing the way we tackle.”
The Bears spent extra time in individual drills working on tackling. “It’s always emphasized, but it was more overly emphasized [Wednesday].
“I think it could turn around pretty quick,” Eberflus said. “It’s about the fundamentals of it, but [just] as importantly, it’s about determination. It’s about the front-seven really committing to it, the linebackers and d-line and the secondary … committing to not giving up the big play in the running game.”